What causes acid reflux in pregnancy and how can women cope with the problem?
Some people will call it heartburn, but while this is only one of its symptoms, acid reflux is caused by the flow of stomach acid into the esophagus. Sometimes, this acid, mixed with other stomach contents is regurgitated into the mouth which leads to sour or acidic taste in the throat and the mouth.
People of both sexes and all ages suffer from the occasional bout of acid reflux. However, some demographics are more likely to get it. Among those most affected are pregnant women. In fact, acid reflux pregnancy affects 30 to 50 percent of pregnant women.1)
7 Causes of Acid Reflux in Pregnancy
Pregnancy comes with many changes in the body. This is natural because the expectant mother’s body has to cater for both her and her developing baby in all ways. In addition to maintaining her body in relative health, she has to provide all the nutrients, air, comfort and space necessary for proper development of the fetus. In this quest, the body undergoes various adjustments. And while these adjustments are meant for the good of both the expectant mother and her unborn baby, they take a toll on the woman’s body.
Some of the changes that occur include increased production of some hormones, expansion of the uterus, and soreness or pain in the breasts. A pregnant woman may also undergo psychological changes, blood pressure changes and increased urination. Some of these changes lead to acid reflux pregnancy as follows:
1) Hormonal Changes
As mentioned above, pregnancy causes various hormonal changes. These include a marked increase in estrogen and progesterone which causes relaxation of the smooth muscles such as those within the esophagus, LES and the rest of the digestive system. This slows down movement of food through the digestive system which increases the opportunity for the absorption of nutrients for use by the mother-to-be and her developing baby.
Unfortunately, the slowing down of movement of food means that the stomach remains full for longer. This increases the chances of acid reflux.2)
Pregnancy also causes an increase in another hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin. This hormone, which is produced in the placenta tissues, can trigger digestive problems such as nausea, vomiting and acid reflux.
2) Expansion of the Uterus
As the fetus develops, it causes the uterus to expand and occupy more space in the abdomen. The expanding uterus pushes outwards, pressing against the abdominal wall and thereby causing the familiar pregnancy bump. In the same way, the uterus pushes against other organs within the abdominal cavity including the stomach and the intestines. Reflux due to an enlarged uterus occurs later in pregnancy as the developing baby grows bigger.
Delayed evacuation of digested food and waste through the intestines leads to constipation. Intake of iron supplements during pregnancy further increases the risk of constipation. The net effect of constipation is similar to delayed digestion and an enlarged uterus, which is increased abdominal pressure which can force the LES to open and let gastric acid and other juices to leak into the esophagus and cause acid reflux.
4) Increased Appetite
When pregnant, women experience increased or reduced appetite. Increased appetite can mean that woman may eat a bigger meal than normal in one sitting. This, coupled with the reduced rate of movement of food through the digestive system increases pressure inside the stomach which can cause acid reflux.
As recommended for anybody who suffers from recurrent acid reflux, it is best to eat frequent small meals instead of a few large meals. This way, the stomach is never too full. You can also reduce the risk of acid reflux pregnancy at night by eating the last meal of the day three hours or longer before going to bed.
5) Certain Foods
Whether pregnant or not, certain foods cause acid reflux in some people.
For some reason, the digestive systems of many pregnant women cannot handle certain foods. If a woman with such a sensitivity consumes the culprit foods, she it is almost certain that she will get acid reflux. Culprit foods include fried, greasy foods, spicy foods, carbonated drinks like soda; caffeine, tomatoes, and citrus fruits. If you are affected, you can lower your risk of reflux by avoiding the culprit food items.3)
Taking alcoholic beverages, smoking or chewing tobacco can also cause reflux, besides posing many other health dangers to the mother and her unborn baby. Expectant mothers should therefore, avoid alcohol and tobacco.
6) Sleeping Soon After a Meal
Some women suffer from low energy or fatigue during pregnancy. They may feel sleepy most of the times. Unfortunately, lying down soon after a meal can lead to acid reflux. The same can happen as a result of engaging in strenuous physical activity after a meal. This is valid for any individual, also for non-pregnant women.
Pregnancy comes with some psychological changes which include increased stress. The same way stress is a risk factor for acid reflux in non-pregnant individuals, it can also lead to acid reflux pregnancy in women.
Final Notes on Acid Reflux in Pregnancy
Acid reflux pregnancy is a common challenge that affects most expectant mothers due to the various changes that occur during this time. If you are pregnant, you can reduce the incidence and discomfort of reflux by avoiding foods, drinks and activities known to cause or trigger the problem.
Some of the ways to lower the risk of acid reflux during pregnancy include eating frequent small meals, avoiding strenuous physical activity soon after eating, eating your last meal of the day three hours or longer before going to bed, and sleeping on your left side.
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